“As a livestreaming platform that gives artists a venue where they can showcase their talents as well as earn an income when live events went away, this really speaks to the resilience of our community,” says Kumu co-founder Alex Tshering.
The Kumu office, headed by chief of staff James Rumohr and chief growth officer Alex Tshering, is an unassuming block of rooms held within a co-working space in the Metro. Because of this, it would be easy to assume that Kumu was a mere start up, not one that is considered the largest grossing app in the Philippines with over $1M in funding to date.
But that is the Kumu culture: both Rumohr and Tshering are laid back, prone to breaking out in large bursts of laughter with just one look at each other. “We’ve known each other since we were 15,” says Rumohr. At the shoot, both of them poked gentle fun at each other, be it regarding Rumohr’s choice of clothing or whether Tshering had answered the questions to this interview (he did).
On Rumohr’s desk, a desktop screen displayed streams from Kumu influencers. Kumu, with the tagline of “where authentic connections happen,” was founded in 2018, and began as an online platform to connect Filipinos from all over the world.
Since then, there have been an estimated 10 million app downloads across the world, with around 60 million livestreams that are watched per month.
According to Tshering, Kumu is a safe space, where users make it what they want it to be. “At the core of Kumu is a community. Kumu is successful because we offer a platform where people can be authentic, hangout, meet new friends, and get a glimpse into the lives of others,” he says.
Rumohr concurs, further adding that its appeal is due to the fact that the app is a welcoming environment for all their users, all over the world. They are also open minded to feedback from their power users, which creates a relationship between company and user that is loyal to each other.
Due to its highly self-improvised nature, it is also very easy to make connections to make users with fans. Viewers are encouraged to drop diamonds to their favorite viewers, which in turn ups the standing of the user in the community. Beyond diamonds, some fans have been able to drop off actual gifts in real life like Japanese whisky and gift certificates to steak restaurants.
That the company blew up during the pandemic is no surprise: this is a platform that lives digitally. “As a livestreaming platform that gives artists a venue where they can showcase their talents as well as earn an income when live events went away, this really speaks to the resilience of our community,” says Tshering.
COVID-19 did not curtail their growth, and the evidence lies in their number of employees. Just before March 2020, the company had a total of 40 staff.
To keep up with what Rumohr describes as “mass influx of users looking for a safe space to create life content,” the company went on a hiring spree and right now have a present total of 650 plus staff members in 2022.
Time is right
As the Philippines is slowly moving over to an endemic mindset, Rumohr believes the time is ripe to unleash previous plans to incorporate offline activities within the online world at Kumu.
“With the amount of talented creators we have in Kumu we are definitely ready to execute our plans to engage our user community with offline and online activities,” he says.
Tshering agrees. “We are excited for life to resume like the rest of the world,” he says, adding that Kumu’s community-centric value will help create avenues for users to come together on on-the-ground activations. “We also are so pumped to showcase the talents of kumu on a global scale, through live events,” he says.
It is an exciting time to be part of the livestreaming market, which is expected to hit $4.26M by 2028. Rumohr says Kumu will be right in the thick of it, due to their sustainability. “Our approach to build communities and to migrate a diverse population of users from different social media platforms [will help],” he says.
Because Kumu is a home for communities across the globe, Tshering says that Kumu will always be a place to market and showcase talent. “It will just be a place for authentic connections, and friendships to be formed no matter who you are or where you are,” he says.
Rumohr says this line of work was something he had never thought he had been in. “I never would’ve imagined that I would be a cofounder and a leader of a live stream based social media company,” he says.
As a former US Airforce Veteran and educator, it makes sense: “My career has always been linked to serving people,” he says. So Kumu in a way, is also in service of the people. “I am proud to be able to work for Kumu and continue my passion for service to a virtual community,” he adds.
Tshering on the other hand, had always wanted to be part of something that had a positive impact on society. In Kumu, he believes he has found that calling. “It is something so unique, the way it unifies and provides a safe space is something that one could only dream of,” he says.
The last two years, says Rumohr, have been a challenge. Helping lead the company and being a new father, not to mention moving his family from the United States to live here, was not an easy task. It was a great learning experience, one that Rumohr has found to be especially fruitful.
“I learned how to remind myself that my son is watching me at all times so I have to be the best role model even during adverse situations,” he says.
This resilience is something that Tshering, too, has found in himself. “I’ve discovered that we are are resilient, we find a way, and that when you come together you can make change happen,” he says.
Every day, he is grateful to be part of Kumu. “I tell myself to soak everything happening around me, because what we are doing is something that has inspired me to understand that community is so crucial to our existence.”